Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Colombian civil society leaders victims of violence (April 25, 2017)

Colombia's government must strengthen efforts to protect rights defenders and community activists, increasingly the lethal victims of attacks since a peace deal was signed with the FARC, said Human Rights Watch. Reports estimate that up to 25 civil society activists had been killed in 2017, through March.  "Somos Defensores and the office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in Colombia report that most of the killings appear to have been committed by paramilitary successor groups, some of which emerged after a flawed demobilization process of paramilitary death squads a decade ago."

These concerns will form part of a second U.N. monitoring mission, aimed at verifying security and protection measures for former FARC fighters and community leaders once the cease-fire and disarmament phase is complete, explains a WOLA analysis from last week. The wave of assassinations is one of the gravest risks for the process writes Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli.

Last week former President Álvaro Uribe sent a "blistering attack" on the accords to every U.S. congressional office, as well as to Washington’s community of analysts, advocates and donors who work on Colombia, reports WOLA. "Colombia’s peace accord implementation is going slowly, and faces daunting problems. There is a responsible, fact-based critique that a conservative analyst could make. Uribe’s document is not that critique. It suffers from numerous factual inaccuracies and statements that are easily rebutted. Its fixation on the FARC, a waning force, deliberately lacks important facts regarding other parties to the conflict and it does little to explain how the United States can help Colombia address post-conflict challenges. ... The vast majority of his claims are either inaccurate, or debatable."

News Briefs
  • U.S. Senator Marco Rubio denies setting up a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and two former Colombian presidents opposed to the peace process with the FARC, reports CBS News. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Homicides have gone down drastically in Colombia, but further reductions will require a focus on urban violence, write María Victoria Llorente, Juan Carlos Garzón and Boris Ramírez in El Espectador, part of the  “Instinto de Vida” campaign that aims to reduce homicides in the region by 50 percent. The piece analyzes homicide data from Cali, Bogotá, Medellín and Barranquilla, analyzing how homicides are grouped into specific neighborhoods with weak state presence. 
  • Rodrigo Tot, a Guatemalan land activist and evangelical pastor, was awarded the Goldman Environmental prize yesterday, in recognition of his defense of indigenous Q'eqchi community's lands against a mining company and the government, reports the Associated Press. Tot has fought for decades to try to obtain government recognition of locals' right to fertile farmland in Guatemala's eastern department of Izabal. Two previous Latin American recipients of the prize were killed in 2016 and 2017: Honduran Berta Cáceres in March of last year, and Mexican Isidro Baldenegro in January of this year.
  • Four people died in clashes between anti and pro government protesters in Venezuela yesterday, reports the Guardian. The government blamed the opposition for attacks on supporters. In Caracas the political opposition organized "sit-ins" that gathered thousands of people in support of elections and blocked major roads, reports the New York Times.
  • Venezuela's political opposition is "primarily a reactive force: able to mobilise the masses for short spells, but struggling to retain momentum subsequently," writes Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez in a Financial Times opinion piece. "In a country where scrounging for food and medicine has become a full-time job for many, the personal costs of sustaining protest are simply too high. When the world stops paying attention and international pressure begins to wane, so too do the crowds and the cycle begins anew. Time therefore is on Maduro’s side even as 80 per cent of Venezuelans are not."
  • In America's Quarterly, Venezuelan Daniel Fermín urges protesters to hew to non-violence, noting that "in nonviolent struggle, repression often backfires on the regime, causing cracks in their ranks. Nonviolent action is particularly effective in gaining international support and causing shifts in the regime’s international support base. Far from achieving its goals, when demonstrations turn violent they: 1) significantly raise the costs of participation, decreasing the number of people willing to join; 2) stimulate greater cohesion in pro-government groups; 3) lower the costs of repression, which is then seen by police and military forces as necessary and justified; and 4) delegitimize the protest in the eyes of the international community. All of this can happen –and has happened in the past– in Venezuela."
  • Ecuador's state media watchdog has fined seven media companies for failing to cover a story deemed in public interest. The government said there was an obligation to report on a story about the alleged off-shore dealings of then-presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, who lost in a run-off election earlier this month. The companies -- including El Comercio, La Hora, Expreso and El Universo, and television channels Televicentro, Teleamazonas and Ecuavisa -- have accused the government of censorship, and appeals are underway, reports the BBC. The fines imposed on the companies are about $3,750.
  • Cash transfers had long-term impact on recipients' well being and fostered social mobility among Ecuador's poorest, according to a new United Nations University study on the country's Bono de Desarrollo Humano. Researchers also found that higher transfers translate into higher wellbeing, writes Andrés Mideros Mora in the Conversation. "For economists and policymakers, our research results should confirm that cash transfers must not be seen as merely a way to ensure the minimum level of food consumption, education and access to health for society’s poorest. Rather, they are a tool for fostering longer-term social mobility. The finding that size matters is also noteworthy. The more money families receive, the better their outcomes."
  • Former Haitian police commander Guy Phillipe pleaded guilty Monday in Miami federal court to a drug-related, money-laundering conspiracy charge that could send him to prison for at least nine years, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Peruvian police could expel two foreigners accused of inciting rural communities to protest against a Canadian owned copper mine, reports Reuters.
  • Colombia's National Electoral Council is asking President Juan Manuel Santos to voluntarily testify in its investigation into whether his re-election campaign received contributions from the scandal-tarred Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, reports the Associated Press.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed a former Colombian director of intelligence from the country. Enrique Ariza Rivas has been charged in Colombia with aggravated psychological torture of a journalist and for various crimes relating to unlawful wiretapping.
  • Chile's leftist New Majority coalition is fielding a political outsider, Senator Alejandro Guillier, in this year's presidential elections. He will face off against conservative former President Sebastian Pinera, who seems likely to win, according to the Economist, which compares Chilea's post-dictatorship trajectory to Spain's. "In Chile, as in Spain, the transition ushered in the most successful period in the country’s history, with greater prosperity and social progress. In both cases the centre-left began to go astray when it ceased to believe in its own success." Over at the AULA blog, Stefano Palestini Céspedes says Guillier's selection indicates disillusionment among the center left's base, but that "the PS may be abandoning its previous ideological platform without a clear idea of what is going to be the new one.  The ideological and programmatic orientations behind Guillier’s candidacy are unclear."
  • Nine people, including an evangelical pastor, were killed in Brazil's Matto Grosso state last week. A human rights group points to a pattern of pressure aimed at displacing small-scale farmers from lucrative territories, reports AFP.
  • Extensive plea-bargain testimony from former Odebrecht executives has implicated a large swathe of Brazil's political class, and provides a sort of "900-hour corruption tutorial," according to O Globo. But the testimony shows how deep the culture of corruption in Brazil goes, to the point where experts say extensive reform will be needed to route it, reports the Financial Times. In the meantime, it's largely business as usual for the government, though several cabinet members and key lawmakers are officially under investigation in relation to allegations of corruption stemming from the Odebrecht testimony, notes the Economist.
  • In the meantime, while it appears next years presidential elections are the best bet for rescuing a delegitimized political system, its not clear who will be allowed to run thanks to corruption allegations besmirching leading politicians of the country's main parties. "Except for some miniscule political parties, virtually the entire political system now faces corruption charges," notes Fabio Kerche at Aula Blog.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer said his tenure is not threatened by a legal case accusing him of receiving illegal campaign donations in the 2014 election in which he formed part of then-President Dilma Rousseff's ticket, reports EFE.
  • Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán has become an unlikely champion of penal reform -- albeit through complaints about the conditions he is subjected to in a Manhattan jail. His lawyers say the restrictions imposed on Guzmán have hindered his ability to prepare for trial, and have asked that Amnesty International be allowed to investigate conditions in the 10 South federal jail, reports the New York Times. (Other complaints include the quality of tap water and an oft-replayed rhinoceros tv show.) 
  • Nicaraguan police blocked thousands of farmers and rural residents from demonstrating against a canal that could cut across their territory, reports AFP.
  • Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo announced the recovery of grandson 122, reports TeleSUR.
  • Ecoturism is murky at best in the Amazon, where a lack of clear laws governing ecotourism and the use of natural resources permit tour operators to promote programs with negative impact for increasingly endangered wildlife, writes Vanessa Barbera in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Gushing article on Mexican wine country in the New York Times. Valle de Guadalupe is increasingly appealing to millennials with design oriented wineries and cheaper tourism options, reports the New York Times separately.

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